BNP needs to rethink its brand of politics if it wishes to rise again some day
John Ralston Saul in his seminal book Voltaire’s Bastards portrayed an unflattering picture of the supposed rationality of Western bureaucracy that gives rise to a self-serving machinery.
The ruling elites, in the name of reason have developed a bureaucratic system that lacks ethical framework and breeds only sanctioned ideas.
Rather than solving real problems, the system endorses a set of popular ideas championed by the powerful that ultimately fractures the society.
In particular, diplomacy is one area where facts and realities often take a backseat, because there is a structured set of policies that needs to be propagated and implemented.
BNP basically wants to reach out to these establishments and convince us that there is no democracy in the country, that the AL is ravaging the national interest, and that the rise of terrorism is directly related to total breakdown of rule of law and state institutions.
These are all valid points, and such, outreach programs are often comforting too. We get that, but, more often than not, the hue and cry is destined for deaf ears.
Let us not forget, behind every policy disaster there are scores of bureaucrats feeding their superiors the 11-course degustation meal of analysis and information — exactly the way the establishment demanded it to be.
In foreign policy, facts are not like a jigsaw puzzle where you try to solve a problem based on evidence, it’s more like PlayDoh, where malleability of modelling clay allows it be presented in a way that suits the maker’s taste
Now, this young man hiding behind a desktop in Washington, London, or Brussels may well be aware of 50 Shades of Green, but that is his academic curiosity.
In real life, for practical purposes, there are just three kinds of Muslims in the world: Muslims who a. will, b. be likely to, and c. will never blow off. Yes, it is that simple, and keeping it simple as such makes life a lot easier — sadly, only in Washington or Brussels.
That guy may know very well that Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh is not a terrorist organisation and in some respect they fare better than AL or BNP as far democratic decision-making is concerned.
But will he risk writing a favourable opinion of an Islamist organisation in a decision-making process or policy paper? Of course not.
In fact, to be safe, he will probably remain 100 pages away from anything that comes even close to that radioactive outfit. The culmination of these notes, minutes, briefings, and expert opinions is what we loosely call “foreign policy.”
In foreign policy, facts are not like a jigsaw puzzle where you try to solve a problem based on evidence, it’s more like PlayDoh, where malleability of modelling clay allows it to be presented in a way that suits the maker’s taste.
Solving problems or helping the deserving has never been the primary function of bureaucratic organisations — it is to support their dogma.
BNP has set out to convey these establishments a set of following core messages (but not limited to), which, in the light of current geo-political reality, seem rather audacious:
- Jamaat is not a terrorist organisation. It is a regular democratic party.
- BNP’s alliance with Jamaat is strictly an electoral one (so this particular Islamic brand of politics has got nothing to do with BNP.
- They should persuade India that a democratic election in Bangladesh is actually in the interest of Bangladesh, which, if it supersedes Indian interest in Bangladesh, should be accepted gracefully by the regional superpower.
In all fairness, this commentator is confident that he has a better chance convincing Donald Trump that Mexican Muslims are at least semi-human beings while some might have really big hands — bigger than his.
Some people, after ordering a large sized Big Mac, devour the meal even if they were satisfied half-way through it. They think: “Since I have paid for it I might as well finish it.” In psychology, falling into the trap of this thinking error is known as “sunk cost fallacy.”
If you are having a meal to satisfy your hunger, logically speaking, it does not matter how much you have paid earlier or how much food is left in the plate after you have had enough. The BNP’s alliance with Jamaat is a classic example of sunk cost fallacy.
The party is continuing a meaningless (and fruitless) alliance because it thinks “since we have invested so much, it makes sense to carry on for the sake of credibility.”
Is the BNP a lost cause?
No one in the party seems to have a proper answer to the simple question: “What benefits might the Islamist party bring to BNP through the alliance?”
In recent polls, Jamaat has commanded a support base of only 4%, nationally.
The mythical street power of the party has been proven insufficient time and again to cause not even a stir in the capital. Does it have a great ally somewhere in the East or West? Evidently not.
What exactly is the formidable strength of Jamaat seems to be a question that can only be answered by astrologers and “security experts.”
In the current geopolitical reality, the party which vows to fight Islamist terrorism claims to be centrist, but aligns with an Islamist party, is a congregation of amateurs at best.
BNP must remember that it is not a revolutionary political party capable of inducing violence. It should do what it did pretty well for the last 40 years — regular politics at the middle ground.
Fortunately, the BNP has rightly realised the dangers of Islamist terrorism looming over the country. To that end, its call for an all-party anti-terrorism alliance is indeed commendable. Given the fact that they have a better track record than AL in tackling Islamist terrorism, and ruling parties in Bangladesh never pay heed to the opposition, their call for unity is likely to fall on deaf ears.
India may compromise for a middle ground, taking back its blank check to the AL, but only if they are assured of a decent third force. It is in a shambolic situation like this that a no-objection pledge could be crucial for the party
This actually offers the BNP a great opportunity to rebrand their politics.
Instead of severing their ties with Jamaat, they can abolish the 20-party electoral alliance altogether, which has lost its purpose. Electoral alliance is a strategy for winning a fair election. It is a pointless exercise when the polls are blatantly rigged. They couldn’t stop the no-holds-barred rigging in 2013, what makes them confident that they’ll be able stop the next one?
Few would dispute that the need of the hour is to form a coalition of political parties against terrorism.
If the BNP is honest and upright about their commitment, they should lead from the front and do it fast. A need-based alliance (ie the coalition against terrorism) without Jamaat, as opposed to the prevailing electoral alliance (ie the 20-Party Alliance) is an infinitely better option.
Needless to say, it will not transform the party overnight into a darling of the West — probably nothing will.
But it could be just enough to obtain, at least, a no-objection pledge. Under the current status quo, the external pressure against the current regime that BNP is desperately hoping for, if ever materialised, is unlikely to go in favour of the party.
India may compromise for a middle ground, taking back its blank check to the AL, but only if they are assured of a decent third force.
It is in a shambolic situation like this that a no-objection pledge could be crucial for the party.
The BNP may not win Western support in the foreseeable future, but the on-the-ground situation in Bangladesh is so bad that the party may do just well enough if they strategise well in this (quasi) great game.
- First published in Dhaka Tribune on 16 & 17 August
Faham Abdus Salam is currently working in the Australian Government in Pharmaceutical Evaluation.